Erich Hartmann Erich Alfred "Bubi" Hartmann (19 April 1922 – 20 September 1993), also nicknamed "Bubi" by allies and "The Black Devil" by his enemies, was a German fighter pilot and still is the highest scoring fighter ace in the history of aerial warfare. He claimed 352 aerial victories (of which 345 were won against the Soviet Air Force, and 260 of which were fighters) in 1,404 combat missions and engaging in aerial combat 825 times while serving with the Luftwaffe in World War II. From 1 February to 14 February 1945, Hartmann briefly led I./JG 53 as acting Gruppenkommandeur until he was replaced by Helmut Lipfert. In March of 1945, Hartmann, his score now standing at 336 aerial victories, was asked a second time by General Adolf Galland to join the Me-262 units forming to fly the new jet fighter. Hartmann attended the jet conversion program led by Heinrich Bär. Galland also intended Hartmann to fly with JV 44. Hartmann declined the offer, preferring to remain with JG 52. Some sources report that Hartmann's decision to stay with his unit was due to a request via telegram made by Oberstleutnant Hermann Graf. Now Gruppenkommandeur of I./JG 52, Erich Hartmann claimed his 350th aerial victory on 17 April 1945, in the vicinity of Chrudim. The last wartime photograph of Hartmann known was taken in connection with this victory. At the end of the war, Erich Hartmann disobeyed General Hans Seidemann's order to Hartmann and Hermann Graf to fly to the British sector to avoid capture by Soviet forces. Hartmann later explained: I must say that during the war I never disobeyed an order, but when General Seidemann ordered Graf and me to fly to the British sector and surrender to avoid the Russians, with the rest of the wing to surrender to the Soviets. I could not leave my men. That would have been bad leadership. After his capture, the U.S. Army handed Hartmann, his pilots, and ground crew over to the Soviet Union on 24 May 1945, where he was imprisoned in accordance with the Yalta Agreements which stated that airmen and soldiers fighting Soviet forces had to surrender directly to them. Hartmann and his unit were led by the Americans to a large open-air compound to await the transfer. The number of prisoners grew to 50,000. Living conditions deteriorated and some American guards turned "a blind eye" to escapes. In some cases, they assisted by providing food and maps. After being handed over to the Soviets, the German group was split up into groups according to gender. Hartmann witnessed widespread rape and murder of civilians. When the outnumbered Americans tried to intervene the Soviet soldiers charged towards them, firing into the air and threatening to kill them. Order was later restored, and some of the guilty soldiers were hanged "on the spot" by a Soviet commander. Initially, the Russians tried to convince Erich to cooperate with them. He was asked to spy on fellow officers and become a "Stukatch" or "stool pigeon". He refused and was given 10 days' solitary confinement in a four-by-nine-by-six-foot chamber. He slept on a concrete floor and was given only bread and water. On another occasion, the Soviets threatened to kidnap his wife and murder her (the death of his son was kept from Hartmann). During similar interrogations, about his knowledge of the Me 262, Hartmann was struck by a Soviet officer using a cane, prompting Hartmann to slam his chair down on the head of the Russian, knocking him out. Expecting to be shot, Erich was transferred back to the small bunker. Hartmann, not ashamed of his war service, opted to go on hunger strike and starve rather than fold to "Soviet will", as he called it. The Russians allowed the hunger strike to go on for four days before force feeding Hartmann. More subtle efforts by the Soviet authorities to convert Hartmann to Communism also failed. He was offered a post in the Luftstreitkräfte der Nationale Volksarmee (East German Air Force), which he refused: If, after I am home in the West, you make me a normal contract offer, a business deal such as people sign every day all over the world, and I like your offer, then I will come back and work with you in accordance with the contract. But if you try to put me to work under coercion of any kind, then I will resist to my dying gasp.